How to Make Your Breastmilk Fattier (And What Doesn’t Work)

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Does your breastmilk look thin and watery? Is baby not gaining weight well? You might have been told your body makes “skim” or low fat milk. Here’s what you should know, and how to fix the problem.

Breastmilk comes in a lot of colors and consistencies. Most of us are used to seeing cow’s milk, which is uniformly white and homogenized, meaning the fat doesn’t separate and float to the top of the milk jug.

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But breastmilk doesn’t look like cow’s milk. Its color changes from feed to feed, it’s often a little yellow, greenish, or even tinted blue, and perhaps most notably, it separates when you put it in the fridge. The fat floats to the top, and you’re left with a thin, watery liquid on the bottom. It almost looks as though the milk has spoiled (don’t worry, it hasn’t)!

How to Make Breastmilk Fattier (And Why You Don't Need To)

Since we’re not used to seeing milk fat separate like this, most of us don’t have a clear sense of how much fat human milk should have. And when we see other breastfeeding parents post photos of their milk in our online support groups–milk so fatty it doesn’t even pour out of the bottle–we can start to question the quality of our own milk.

It doesn’t help that when babies aren’t gaining weight well, healthcare providers (who usually don’t have lactation training) often tell breastfeeding parents that they “must be making skim milk.” This is usually followed by the suggestion to eat fattier foods to boost the amount of fat in their milk. There’s just one big problem.

The body doesn’t make skim milk.

There is no evidence to indicate that some breastfeeding parents just make inadequate, low-fat milk. Furthermore, the amount of fat in your milk doesn’t depend on the amount of fat you eat: It depends on how full or drained the breast is (source, source).

That said, the type of fats you eat can affect the fatty acid profile of your milk (source, source). In other words, breastfeeding parents who consume higher levels of–for example–polyunsaturated fatty acids (found in some nuts, seeds, oils and fish) are more likely to have these types of fatty acids in their milk.

A perfect diet is not necessary to produce breastmilk that is healthy and nutritious for baby.
Breastfeeding parents whose diets are high in certain kinds of fats will have more of these types of fats in their milk. But you do NOT have to eat a perfect diet to make healthy, nutritious milk.

But still, eating more of this type of fat isn’t going to result in fattier milk (source). It’s kind of like the body has a recipe it follows for making milk, and it doesn’t like to deviate from that recipe too much, even if there is a change in your diet.

The truth is, we don’t actually have a lot of evidence to indicate that diet strongly affects the nutritional quality of breast milk (source). As long as a breastfeeding parent is nourished, the research we have available suggests that the milk produced will be healthy and nutritious. If your diet is low in Vitamins A, B-Complex, C and D, your milk may be low in these vitamins. But this is relatively easy to reverse, and in the meantime, your milk will still provide an adequate amount of calories, fat, carbohydrates, and protein.

A word on Vitamin D: Vitamin D deficiency is very common in adults worldwide, and levels of Vitamin D tend to be low in breastmilk. This is why many experts recommend giving your breastfed baby 400 IU of Vitamin D per day via drops (source). However, if you would prefer to avoid Vitamin D drops, the American Academy of Pediatrics has also concluded that “Maternal vitamin D supplementation with 6400 IU/day safely supplies breast milk with adequate vitamin D to satisfy [a] nursing infant’s requirement and offers an alternate strategy to direct infant supplementation” (source). Speak to your healthcare provider about which option is best for you and your baby.

The milk on the left was collected from a very full breast. The milk on the right was collected from a breast that was well drained prior to pumping. The amount of fat in one feed isn't significant in the big scheme of things.
The milk on the left was collected from a very full breast. The milk on the right was collected from a breast that was well drained prior to pumping. The amount of fat in one feed isn’t significant in the big scheme of things.

So now what?

If your goal is to help baby gain weight by boosting the amount of fat and/or calories in your milk, hearing that you can’t actually do this by altering your diet doesn’t help much. So what should you do instead?

1. Assess baby’s latch and milk transfer.

That’s just a fancy way of saying make sure baby is getting enough milk. Most often, when a baby is struggling to gain weight, it’s not because of a milk quality issue but rather a milk quantity issue (source). Some babies have latch issues or oral anomalies (such as tongue ties) that can make milk transfer (i.e. extracting milk from the breast) more difficult. These babies might feed very frequently, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are getting enough milk.

I really can’t stress this enough: Low milk fat is virtually never the true cause of weight gain issues in breastfed babies. If your pediatrician is blaming your baby’s slow weight gain on your milk fat quantity or your diet, this is a red flag that suggests he or she may not be the best resource for breastfeeding information in the future.

An IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) who comes highly recommended in your area can help you assess the efficacy of baby’s latch (just because a latch “looks good” doesn’t mean it is!) and can help you do a weighted feed. A weighted feed is where baby is placed on a special, extra sensitive infant scale before and after feeding.

A weighted feed can tell us if baby is getting enough milk by nursing, or if a latch issue is preventing good milk transfer.
For a proper weighted feed, baby should be weighed on a scale sensitive down to at least two grams and should be assessed with the weight of the diaper taken into account.

A properly done weighted feed can give us a reasonable estimate of how much milk baby is taking in at the breast and can alert us to milk transfer issues. If baby isn’t transferring milk well, an IBCLC can give you strategies to address this.

If your goal is continued breastfeeding, don’t wait to seek out this help from a lactation professional. Milk transfer issues rarely resolve on their own over time, and the problems they cause can get very frustrating very quickly. Meeting with a qualified lactation consultant who comes recommended can be an extremely good use of your time!

2. If you are pumping, try hands-on pumping and maybe sunflower lecithin.

As we learned above, drained breasts produce fattier milk than very full breasts. Making sure you drain the breasts often enough will not only keep your milk supply strong–ensuring baby gets enough milk, which matters most–but will also help ensure that baby gets enough fat/calories.

One of the best methods of pumping is called hands-on pumping. To do this, begin by massing the breasts for a minute or so before applying your breast pump. Then massage the breasts with firm, gentle pressure while you pump. Work your way around the breasts, massaging from the back of the breast towards the direction of the nipple.

Hands-on pumping helps produce larger volumes of fattier milk.
Hands-on pumping can yield larger volumes of fattier milk.

One study of preterm infants found that breastfeeding parents who massaged the breast while pumping were able to express larger volumes of milk that were also higher in fat (source). This is because fat usually lines the ducts of the breast, and manual massage can help dislodge this fat so that it more easily flows into the milk.

Sunflower lecithin is also often used to increase fat in expressed breastmilk. However it’s important to note that sunflower lecithin doesn’t actually increase the amount of fat produced. Instead, it (at least in theory) helps the fat that is already there flow more easily through and out of the breast. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of research on the efficacy of sunflower lecithin (source), but people have used it in this way successfully–at least, anecdotally.

But remember: Low milk fat is rarely the true cause of weight gain issues. Focus on making sure baby is getting enough milk.

3. If you need to supplement, don’t be afraid to. Protect your milk supply and pace feed every bottle.

The first rule of breastfeeding is feed the baby. If baby isn’t gaining weight well, don’t be afraid to supplement. This is not breastfeeding failure! Just a speed bump.

If you have frozen milk available or are able to pump additional milk, discuss supplementing with this in lieu of formula with your pediatrician if that is what you would prefer. If you prefer to supplement with formula, make sure that you follow the formula container’s instructions for proper mixing and storage. This is important, since formula has a shorter shelf-life once it’s prepared, and not all types of formula are prepared the same way.

Whenever you give a bottle of formula or thawed frozen milk, be sure to pace feed every bottle. This is critical, as it helps prevent bottle preference and accidental overfeeding.

You’ll also want to be sure that you pump a full session every time baby gets a bottle of formula or frozen milk. This is also critical, as it will prevent your milk supply from decreasing while you’re supplementing.

4. Address low milk supply, if needed.

As we established, weight gain issues are usually a milk quantity issue. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean you have low milk supply. Instead it could simply be that baby is having trouble getting milk out of the breast.

Unfortunately, these milk transfer issues can turn into milk supply issues over time if they aren’t addressed properly. This is because your body gets a signal to produce milk based on how thoroughly and how frequently baby nurses. If baby isn’t nursing very well, over time your milk supply can decrease. And we don’t want this to happen!

READ MORE: Is My Milk Drying Up? (10 Low Milk Supply Myths You Need To Know)

To prevent low supply, aim to drain your breasts 8-12+ times in 24 hours, or as often as baby cues. Try to avoid going long stretches (more than 3-4 hours max) without nursing or pumping, and work with an IBCLC as needed.

Telehealth IBCLC appointments are available
Many IBCLCs are offering telehealth appointments if meeting with someone in person is too difficult. Some issues are best addressed in person, but an in-person appointment is not always necessary.


Turns out, the amount of fat in your milk at any given time depends on things we can’t control, like time of day (milk produced in the evening tends to be higher in fat than milk made in the morning), how long it’s been since your baby last fed (breastfed babies need to be fed when they indicate hunger), and how far you are into a feed or pump session (milk flowing at the end of a feed/pump session tends to be higher in fat than milk flowing at the beginning of the feed) (source).

While this is all very interesting, it’s not something you need to worry too much about. Rest assured that your body knows how much fat to put into your milk! Instead, focus on addressing possible latch, milk transfer, or milk supply issues instead.

Boost Your Milk Supply & Keep It Up

Our FREE guide will give you 5 simple, proven tips to boost your milk supply and increase your pump output. Get results in as little as just a couple days!

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out our digital library of helpful resources that quickly teach how to avoid common breastfeeding problems and give you the peace of mind and confidence you need to meet your breastfeeding goals.

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How to Make Breastmilk Fattier (And Why You Don't Need To)

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